Vibe Shift at Lucy Lacoste

Opening tomorrow is Vibe Shift at the Lucy Lacoste Gallery in Concord, Mass. Five ceramic sculptors–most under the age of 30 and each with a unique point of view–are showcased in this engaging, up-close-and-personal exhibit.

Pictured above: Kristy Moreno, Chica (Checkered Top), 2022, ceramic. Also in the show: Sydnie Jimenez, Isaac Scott, Chanakarn Semachai and Grace Tessein. Through August 13th.

So What Can Future Monuments Be, Anyway?

I was spurred to think about monuments, and what purposes they serve, by the recent removal of a bronze Robert E. Lee sculpture in Richmond, Virginia. The destruction of monuments is as important as their construction. Removal of a material object does not correct the social injustices which have for generations removed freedom, wealth, education, and political participation from the many. But I was reminded how important it can be to enact on a human effigy a community’s rage and sorrow.

Perhaps, in the future, grand Monuments will be replaced by personal, portable figures. They can be grouped and re-grouped, removed and replaced as needed: monuments created by aggregates of people instead of an individual artist commissioned by a partisan organization.

The human figure in effigy is a nexus, a relatable mirror. A monument is a public body made in a specific place and time.

Sinéad O’Connor gained fame with a Prince song, “Nothing Compares 2U” and it’s been an earworm in the soundtrack of my life. O’Connor caused an international scandal in 1992 when she destroyed a picture of the pope on live TV. A devout person, O’Connor was in the 1990s ordained as a priest.
In later life she has converted to Islam. I made a sculpture of Sinéad in polychromed plastic and weatherproof fabric, a saint from a cathedral niche.

Who will be the future heroes in the world we all will live in? Can we each make our own monument?

More community monuments will be featured in the upcoming FeminstFuturist show at Boston Cyberarts Gallery this fall. I’ll be posting as things develop.

Photography by the amazing Melissa Blackall. Title: Sinéad: Nothing compares 2u (2021), painted cast plastic, fabric, dimensions variable. Location: The former Pine Manor College. Sculptor: Carolyn Wirth for FeministFuturist

Undercurrents in Concord

Curated by Elizabeth Awalt, whose painting also appears in the exhibit, “Undercurrents” makes an effort to present work in a wide variety of media and materials, all revolving around the subject of water. Pictured above is The New Normal: In with the Tide by Joan Hall. A large, layered paper sculpture, Hall’s complex process uses overlapping, shaped layers of handmade paper with Kozo and Gampi, hand cut and pulp painted with over-beaten abaca, printed with collagraph and laminated to mylar with acrylic. Hall includes in the handmade paper plastic objects she finds washed up on the beach. Some are recognizable: a comb, shredded plastic bottles, the all-to-familiar detritus of the New England shoreline.

Ironically, Hall uses materials which, if submerged in the tide, would continue to create ocean pollution (mylar and acrylic, plastic waste). This is a conundrum many artists face. Artists have for a long time been aware of personal health issues caused by solvents, resins, pigments, and other studio materials. Says Hall: “Climate change demands new and different ways of navigating how we exist.” That should include the materials and processes we use to make art.

The most arresting work in the show is a group of drawings by Else Bostelmann from the 1930s. Commissioned by the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), Bostelmann descended into the Atlantic ocean wearing a diving helmet, lowering a prepared canvas after her, on which to paint unexplored ocean realms in plein air (or, plein aqua). Her scientific drawings and paintings documented ocean life forms and communicated new underwater research being done from a bathysphere, the most advanced ocean exploration apparatus of the time. Awalt viewed Bostlemann’s work at the Drawing Center in New York, and the drawings now at the Concord Art Center are being publicly shown only for the second time–and well worth a visit. Below, Saber-toothed Viper fish (Chauliodus sloanei) Chasing Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) larva, Else Bostelmann, Bermuda 1934. Watercolor on paper, 18 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches. Courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society Archives.

Beautiful flaws

Cynthia Korzekwa has a wonderful post on Art for Housewives about her experience of viewing the recently-unveiled Torlonia Marbles, and the aesthetics of mending.

Escape a freezing New England February with a video tour of the sculptures at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Introducing…Sally James Farnham

It seems odd–or maybe not–that an American sculptor famous in her day for bronze war and equestrian monuments should be so thoroughly forgotten. Kudos then to Laura Desmond and her insightful and well-researched series of webinars on the intriguing life and brilliant career of Sally James Farnham, now available online.

The Frederic Remington Museum in Ogdensburg, New York, where Desmond is Educator and Curator, was recently renovated to include a large gallery of Farnham’s work. The design of the exhibit reveals Farnham in her place and time, showcasing her touching and heroic figurative sculpture while keeping in its sights the audacious and talented sculptor herself.

Pictured: the original location of Farnham’s Simon Bolivar monument, now on Central Park South in New York City.

Cambridge Monuments

Pandemic restrictions mean that we may not go to as many museums these days. Instead, we walk more and have time to investigate the public sculpture that lives everywhere in and around Boston. A recent stroll in Harvard Square highlighted a contrast between figurative and abstract monuments. Just off Harvard Common, one of Theodora Alice Ruggles Kitson’s “Hikers” stands with his rifle, gazing in the direction of, oddly, Harvard Law School. About 50 of her Hikers, memorials to the Spanish-American War, were cast (there are at least three in the Boston area alone). T.A.R. Kitson, as she often preferred to be known, had a long career sculpting war memorials that humanize the soldiers who served and died. High up on a granite base, the Hiker employs attributes that make its meaning immediately, if not specifically, obvious. We might assume he’s a Caucasian war hero, looking out for the welfare of American citizens—however complicated the truth of the conflict might be. Or maybe we shy away from a sentinel with a gun.

Across the street in the Cambridge Common is a newer sculpture, Ted Clausen’s granite monument to Prince Hall. Hall was born into slavery in 1735 and petitioned to join Washington’s Revolutionary army; he went on to establish the first elementary school for black children in Cambridge, and the first black Freemasons. Five engraved black granite tablets—only slightly taller than the average person—form a close semicircle into which the viewer walks, to contemplate engraved quotes about Hall’s life. This seems a peculiarly Bostonian memorial. One must be quite literate, and understand the cultural context of the materials and typefaces used, in order to tease out the meaning of the piece. It’s possible to walk past without quite understanding what the granite blocks signify.

There remains a place for the figure in contemporary monuments, if only to provide a focal point for viewers irrespective of culture or language. The several figurative monuments in Cambridge Common ask other questions: are the men they represent still revered and relevant? How long do they need to stand where they are? What is the half-life of public sculpture?

Into the Woods…

The outdoor Art Ramble is truly a ramble in the woods, and worth a drive to the Hapgood-Wright Forest, just off Route 2A in Concord. 

Pictured is Liz Helfer’s “Foggy Morning”
Steel, chicken wire, nylon mesh, construction barrier
Says Liz:
Material choice plays a critical role in my sculpture practice. I have focused on metal since 2009 because of its historical complexity and perceived value. However, I have been moving away from singular material choices and have moved into a mixed media practice that addresses our impending environmental peril. My studio is located in Waltham, MA.

Artist Statement
Foggy Morning connects the idea of rest, peace, and environmental innovation. As the planet heats up, new technologies have become increasingly important to human survival. One of these technologies pulls water directly from the air, a “fog net” that maximizes water collection from the morning dew. Foggy Morning is a pseudo fog net shaped like a large worn pillow. The pillow has many mesh layers that reveal the smaller layers within, a reflection of the complex and intersecting issues at work due to increased water scarcity. 

Ruth and Marisol

One of my very favorite Marisol sculptures is back on display at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. Witty–not to say scathing–and demonstrating Marisol Escobar‘s trademark erudite draftsmanship and innovative combinations of carved and cast elements, Ruth (1962) deserves a second (or even third, fourth, or seventeenth) look. A portrait of Ruth Klingman, abstract expressionist painter notorious for her many affairs, the sculpture sprouts multiple heads and a centipede-like array of legs protruding from a pastel-painted pickle barrel. Klingman’s louche appearance in real life is corralled by Marisol into a characteristically fashionable facade. Wearing Marisol’s trademark pillbox hat like a crown of respectability, Ruth nevertheless gives the finger to passersby and points to a protruding tongue (or possibly some other anatomical feature) drawn on one of the barrel’s four panels, while breasts made of artificial fruit jut from her pastel chests. Klingman was the only survivor of the car crash that killed Jackson Pollock and Edith Metzger in 1956: being a muse to artists like Pollock and de Kooning was apparently much more than a mixed blessing, especially in light of Audrey Flack’s recent reminiscences of New York Ab-Ex life in Hyperallergic’s new podcast.

Rainy Day Bird

“Bird Afloat” by Frances Kent Lamont is in the permanent collection of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Carved in alabaster on a dark green marble base, Lamont’s piece dates from 1950. She studied at the Art Students League in New York and at the School of American Sculpture. Lamont’s large output included portraits and war memorials, the latter at sites in Connecticut, New York, and Virginia. One of Lamont’s best known sculptures is perhaps the brass “Gallic Cock” in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Southwest in Ogunquit

At the Ogunquit Museum of American Art lives this vessel by Hopi-Tewa potter Rachel Sahmie Nampeyo.

According to the Museum, Nampeyo descends from four generations of Hopi-Tewa potters. She continues to design pots in the tradition of the grand matriarch, Nampeyo (1859-1942), the ceremonial title for the Hopi-Tewa matriarch who lived on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. Her Tewa name, spelled Num-pa-yu, means “snake that does not bite.” She used traditional hand building techniques to form, glaze, and fire the pottery and combines ancient Hopi symbols with her own sense of design.

Rachel Sahmie Nampeyo, Hopi Seed Jar, traditional Nampeyo polychrome yellow ware, 2014